Hailo latest taxi company to target Belfast after Uber
Belfast's taxi wars are to shift up a gear as Hailo, a rival of global giant Uber, prepares to compete for a share of cab fares in the city.
The firm, which is big in London with black cab drivers and has a considerable presence in the Republic, is expected to arrive in Belfast this year.
Both Hailo and Uber allow customers to book taxis using a mobile phone app.
It's understood representatives from Hailo had meetings in Belfast last month.
It has been confirmed permission for it to operate has already been granted.
The new Department for Infrastructure said: "A taxi operator licence was issued to Hailo on January 22, 2016.
"To date there are no vehicles or drivers affiliated to this licence."
A spokesman for Hailo said it "always works closely with regulators prior to entering a new market, which is why we have obtained a licence for Northern Ireland".
"As the largest network of taxis on the island of Ireland, with over 10,000 drivers, we continue to receive a large number of enquiries from passengers and drivers in Northern Ireland about our plans to launch," he added. "But there is no announcement to make currently regarding a timescale for launch in Belfast."
FonaCab boss William McCausland said he was not worried about having another firm enter the market here.
"When Uber opened we had about 470 drivers, we now have 660 and a 40% increase in business," he pointed out.
"People know the quality of our business.
"I would not concern myself. I am concerned with how I operate my business."
Launched in November 2011, Hailo is available in more than 20 cities including London, Madrid, Barcelona and Osaka, and across the Republic.
Uber said it now had around 200 drivers on its books in Belfast, with another 100 in the "sign-up process".
Kieran Harte, general manager for Uber in the city, was blasé about the fresh competition Hailo will bring.
"It's been fantastic, and the market has been great, and we are ahead of where we thought we would be in terms of partner drivers," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"It's got to the point where we can do more things, such as new marketing campaigns.
"Hopefully the competition will be of benefit to everyone in the market."